Fun with languages

by Eszter Hargittai on September 14, 2013

I’ve been enjoying this Great Language Game and wanted to recommend it to others. You listen to a clip in one of 80 languages and are given choices to decide which one it represents. At first you choose between two, but as you advance in the game, you are given an increasing number of choices making your job of picking the right one potentially harder. I say potentially, because if you’re certain of the language then it won’t make a difference, but if you are not then the guessing definitely gets much harder especially depending on the options. For example, I can certainly tell the difference between Cantonese and Japanese, but I cannot between Cantonese and Mandarin. Obviously, your personal experiences will help in various ways. I’m unlikely to be confused by languages I speak or have studied even for a little while (in my case a healthy variety: Hungarian, German, Russian, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish), but have not the first clue about how to identify languages such as Bangla, Dinka, Tagalog or Tongan, just to name a few on the list that are completely foreign to me. Some others fall in between in my experience (like Slavic and Germanic languages) where I’ve done a reasonably good job guessing even if I couldn’t have been sure.

The game’s author has shared some interesting stats about how people have been doing. I got a 750 my first round and wish I could say I have only improved since, but in fact I have not been able to maintain that throughout my attempts. I’ve found the experience interesting for thinking about what features of languages I look for in trying to identify them.

What is it like to be a bug?

by John Quiggin on September 14, 2013

According to Calvin, at least, the same as to be a bat. But for the rest of us, it seems obvious that there is likely to be a qualitative difference between the subjective experience (if any) of a bug, and that of a bat. And, if true bugs don’t work for you in this example, there’s always the colloquial “bugs” such as bacteria and viruses, which presumably don’t have any experience at all.

[click to continue…]

Or tea, as the case may be.

Really, it couldn’t be happening to a nicer guy. Also, this.

‘The revolution will eat its children’. But it’s interesting to think why autosarcophagarchy – that is, rule by self-cannibals – should be such a typical form of revolutionary decline. (Do you like my new word? I think I’ll teach it to my daughter.)

There’s shouldn’t be a problem in principle with being an idealist – i.e. having some vision of what an ideal state would be like that is radically at odds with actually existing reality. Whether it be True Communism or True Conservatism or what have you. Practicing revolutionaries should be able to talk the 1st best talk while walking the 2nd best walk. But there is, I suppose, something inherently maddening about that position, both to the one who assumes it and for spectators. The distance between real and ideal is so great that the practical negotiation of it can never look like an expression of what you have been talking about it, hence can’t look like prudent trimming. So it can’t help looking like rank hypocrisy to enemies and vile betrayal to friends.

This is accentuated by the rhetoric of naturalness that goes with utopianism. ‘Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.’ Or in Obamacare, as the case may be. If the desirable state of affairs is so natural, and the actual state of affairs so horrible, it really seems the rickety structure ought to fall over if you push it. So therefore you ought to do so.

Of course, the case is a bit more complicated when the Robespierres in question were only ever recreational Robespierres to begin with. Napoleons of Notting Hill, not Napoleons. But the dynamic is much the same. (But you are bored with me quoting G. K. Chesterton, so I’ll cut it out.)